A/N: I've been sitting on various WIPs for far too long and then the muses from "Home" go and run at multiple Morphic Twins again. This time, I think I've got enough to break them up a bit, but besides the ever-in-progress "Blues" and a oneshot on Gehl's origins, I may have more miniature fics concerning various examples of a most magnificient trope inspired by the reading of Rommel's book coming, some from fandoms I've written heavily for and some, like this, that just turn right up out of the Red vs. Blue...

Rating, of course, is due to the language of the Churches. Need one say spoilers?

The key is his efficiency. His has his pride - a lot of pride - and a masterful intelligence, but these are not the factors that define him. He can swallow that pride, at least in the short term, and hide exactly how intelligent he is beneath a mask of shortsighted hubris or quirky, out-of-touch humor, as the occasion warrants, but these are as calculated a move as in a chess match, a bluff to lure his opponents into traps and maneuver his allies into more opportune positions. He can turn enemies to allies by force, flattery, or deceit but risks the enmity of his allies with every word that passes his lips, every action he takes in his drive towards his goal. This never fazes him greatly, for he sees alliances, friendships, and rivalries as raw resources. Friend and foe are treated alike as tools: potentially deadly when mishandled, but quite useful once their true potential is reached.

This is not to say that he has no romance in his soul; his actions are inspired by a golden beauty that he will love deeply for all his days as much or more as a desire to rule all he surveys. He only wishes to right what wrongs his cynicism will refuse to let him lay to blame upon the universe and keep it running, however flawed he finds it. He could care less for the outward trappings of absolute power. Ruling from upon high is but an illusion, and all he would have is the influence to bring his world to heel with his ideals, whether it betters his surroundings or not. One might attempt to take what he loves away from him in an effort to break him, but to break the heart is not the same as to break the man. If his last leash upon common morality is removed, then those who would break him shall realize just how efficiently he can break them, even if he himself is shattered in the process.

"Play it again, F.I.L.S.S."

She wasn't sure which was worse: when the Director retreated into a sanctuary of old home movies, seeking inspiration, hope, a reason to keep tinkering endlessly with the advanced AI protocols, or when, as today, he decided to take a more personal interest in his agents' progress on an individual level. But she hated those four words. York had tried to get the group together to watch Casablanca one night and she'd walked out in the middle of the film.

The images repeated themselves on screen, as if she had missed something the first time. That dark head of hair, graying about the temples, never turned from the screen, eyes invisible beneath the light reflecting off thick lenses. She had never needed glasses; she had the rifle skills to prove it. She didn't need to watch this bullshit; she needed to be back out on the floor, practicing.

"Do you see where you let down your guard, Agent Carolina?" the Director asked, once the clip played through for the second time. He'd left his hands on the monitor, as if in silent threat of playing it again, from a different angle. Her spine tightened, shoulders lowered and fingers clamped into the crooks of her arms inside the armor.

"Yes, sir." She supposed she should be grateful that he was willing to go over her mistakes privately, instead of surrounded by South and the boys like the fresh meat during their rounds of "constructive criticism." There were a few advantages to being top agent. Sure, she smirked and swaggered while the Director took new would-be Freelancers down for a second count after she'd finished them in the ring - when it wasn't aimed at you, she had to admit that the head of Project Freelancer's sarcasm could be a majestic thing to watch in its poisonous bile - but the man had enough anger brewing in him for three or four individuals, and when he loosed it, she tended to reflect it right back.

"I cannot have you taking a head wound in the field, Agent, especially if you are nominally left in charge of Project Freelancer resources, like your currently lower-ranked associates." Still he kept his face towards the screen, rewinding past her quick recovery and successful takedown to the double-overhand smash that had set her flat on her ass for all of ten seconds. She'd seen black stars through the padding of her helmet when the beast of a new challenger called Maine came down on her, but she'd lashed out with a leg and brought him down all the same, fighting her dizzy spell with the same ferocity she'd unleashed upon all her opponents since her mother had first taught her how to land a real hit. That had been on her father; they'd played with her when she was a kid, even if a military brat grew up with the kind of games that turned her into this.

"It won't happen again, sir." There was nothing to add; all this was preprogrammed response formality; F.I.L.S.S. could add in the lines for her. They were both better off working. And yet, whenever the Director took time out of his schedule to observe her progress, she damn well wanted to show him progress. Maybe she needed this farce of a lesson, too.

"I should hope not, Agent Carolina. Run through the appropriate training protocols as necessary and see to your injury." Finally, he looked away from the screen, dabbing at the part in her hairline with a handkerchief. It came away red, and not from her hair. "We can't afford to show weakness, now."

The Director held the rag out with a bit of disappointment narrowing his mouth, and she dutifully pressed it back against her wound. For a moment, he'd appeared almost paternal, and he'd always been better at just condescending. It wouldn't do to show hope. That implied that there was a chance of failure. "Mom used to always say that the enemy could smell blood at forty clicks," she joked feebly in agreement.

His eyes narrowed behind the glasses before he turned, dismissing her. "Your mother didn't bleed."

She headed for the infirmary, throwing her dented helmet back on before leaving the Director's office. The others might be waiting outside to ask her what he had wanted, congratulate her on her win, tease her for her sloppiness, or commiserate with Maine on how one good hit might propel him far up the ratings board, but never save anyone from Carolina's beat-down. None of them should see the results of the crack to her skull. Her father had a shitty memory, but she couldn't forget what she'd been taught from one blow to the head.